Northfield, Minnesota Robbery

The Northfield, Minnesota Robbery

December 30, 2004: Coming soon: an update/addition with photos of the bank/museum in Northfield, courtesy of the Northfield Historical Society

From a contemporary woodcut from John Jay Lemon’s “Northfield Tragedy, ” 1876

Northfield, Minnesota – First National Bank of Northfield

September 7, 1876

failed robbery attempt – bank clerk murdered, one townsperson killed

from the Northfield


Sept. 14. 1876

The town motto of Northfield, Minnesota is “Cows, colleges, and contentment.” Despite this placid motto, the Scandinavian settlers of this town brought down the most dangerous and successful outlaw bands operating at that time.

On September 7, 1876 three men entered the town of Northfield about 2pm. They were noticed because of the long linen dusters they wore (which concealed their weapons), the exceptionally fine horses they rode (attention paid to their horses had apparently caused them to cancel a robbery attempt shortly before in Mankato, Minnesota), and, some witnesses said, the rather arrogant confidence with which they moved. Several townspeople, some of them former Civil War soldiers, immediately recognized the look of a “guerrilla raid.” One of them is even said to have shouted, “It’s a St. Alban’s raid” (a bank near the Canadian border robbed by Confederate agents during the war).

Much to the outlaws’ surprise, the people of Northfield not only refused to cooperate with the robbery, they shot back. A lot of them shot back. With deadly accuracy. And they organized huge posses that didn’t give up but kept after them for days and weeks. As many as 2000 men chased them for weeks. This just didn’t happen to them in Missouri. The guns the Northfield townspeople grabbed quickly to use may have been old or in poor working order, but they had an advantage of range over the handguns the robbers used. It’s worth noting, though, that despite accounts written at the time mocking the apparent poor marksmenship of the Missouri robbers, the outlaws were very pointedly trying not to kill anyone. Cole Younger later said, “Chadwell, Woods and Jim rode up and joined us, shouting to people in the street to get inside, and firing their pistols to emphasize their commands. I do not believe they killed any one however… Every time I saw any one with a bead on me I would drop off my horse and try to drive the shooter inside…” The townspeople, on the other hand, were shooting to kill.

Fleeing the town under heavy gunfire, with no money, the James brothers, Frank and Jesse (presumably), and the Younger brothers (Cole, Jim, and Bob), along with Charlie Pitts, left behind two dead gang members, and two dead townspeople. Elias Stacy shot Clell Miller with a shotgun loaded with birdshot. A shot from Dr. Henry M. Wheeler killed him. Anselm R. Manning, armed with a finicky breach-loading rifle killed Chadwell/Stiles. Cole Younger was shot in the thigh; Bob Younger had his right elbow shattered.

Northfield, Minnesota 1869

Dead in Northfield was Nicholas Gustafson, a Swedish immigrant who apparently didn’t understand the shouts in English for him to get off the street. He was killed in the crossfire. Though Cole Younger pleaded guilty as the primary killer in his death, he claimed he wasn’t the one who actually fired the lethal shot. “I have always believed that the man Nicholas Gustafson… was hit by a glancing shot from Manning’s or Wheeler’s rifle. If any of our party shot him it must have been Woods,” said Cole Younger later.

Also dead, in the bank, was Joseph Lee Heywood, the bank clerk who refused to open the safe. He is, to this day, honored as a local hero in Northfield. For a long time it was believed it was Jesse James who killed him. But Cole Younger, on his deathbed, is said  to have told Jesse James’ son and Harry Hoffman (a relative) that it was Frank James who fired the shot that killed Heywood.

Among the dead outlaws was, unfortunately for the gang, the one man who knew his way around the swamps and forests of Minnesota. Most suffering gunshot wounds, lost, hungry, and relentlessly pursued, the gang split up, with the James brothers (with, it is believed, Frank seriously injured) going west where, after 400 miles of pursuit, they got away.

The Youngers were surrounded by a posse in a swamp near Madelia (pron. ma-dee-lee-uh). They did not consider surrendering as they thoroughly believed that they’d be lynched on the spot, so they came out shooting and were all shot again, with Charlie Pitts killed.

To their surprise, they weren’t lynched but, as Cole Younger commented upon with surprise and gratitude many times, were treated as kindly as circumstances allowed.

The Youngers pleaded guilty to the murder charges against them which, under Minnesota law, saved them from hanging. They were sentenced to life in prison and sent to the penitentiary at Stillwater, Minnesota. “The excitement that followed our sentence to state prison, which was popularly called ‘cheating the gallows,’ resulted in the change of the law in that respect,” Cole Younger said. Bob Younger died in prison in 1889 of consumption, but Cole and Jim Younger were paroled and released after twenty-five years. Despite their wild outlaw reputations, they behaved in prison at all times as obedient, model prisoners, never causing trouble or attempting to escape.

The Youngers in 1889, shortly before Bob’s death. Shown with sister Henrietta.

“Come with me to the prison, where for a quarter of a century I have occupied a lonely cell. When the door swings in on you there, the world does not hear your muffled wail. There is little to inspire mirth in prison. For a man who has lived close to the heart of nature, in the forest, in the saddle, to imprison him is like caging a wild bird.”

(Cole Younger in “What My Life Has Taught Me”)

“…imprisonment has brought out the excellencies of many men. I have learned many things in the lonely hours there. I have learned that hope is a divinity; I have learned that a surplus of determination conquers every weakness…” (Cole Younger in “What My Life Has Taught Me”) “A man has plenty of time to think in prison, and I might add that it is an ideal place for a man to study law, religion, Shakespeare, not forgetting the president’s messages. However, I would advise you not try to get into prison just to find an ideal place for these particular studies.”  (Cole Younger in “What My Life Has Taught Me”) “When the iron doors shut behind us at the Stillwater prison I submitted to the prison discipline with the same unquestioning obedience that I had exacted during my military service.” (Cole Younger, regarding the 25 years he spent in prison for the Northfield robbery and murders)

The surviving Younger brothers, Cole and Jim, were paroled to within the borders of Minnesota in 1901, having served 25 years of their life sentences in prison. October 19, 1902 Jim Younger killed himself in St. Paul, Minnesota, apparently despondent over the limitations of his parole that not only prevented him from returning home to Missouri, but prevented him from marrying. Early in 1903 Cole Younger was pardoned on the condition, among others, that he leave Minnesota and never return. That condition he doesn’t seem to have found a hardship.

The dead outlaws in Northfield, picture from the Northfield newspaper, 1876,

Clell Miller & Bill Chadwell

“The Northfield Tragedy,” written in 1876 by John Jay Lemon, a journalist who investigated the robbery and interviewed the Youngers immediately after their capture, gives the following descriptions of the two outlaws killed in Northfield:

Chadwell/Stiles – 6′ 4½” tall, face elongated oval with sharply cut features, high cheekbones, well arched brow, deep-set blue eyes, hair dark reddish auburn inclined to curl, 23-25 years old

Miller – 5′ 8″ tall, hair same as Chadwell’s, stouter, face rounder, blue eyes

He gives the descriptions of those in the bank thus:

The man shut in the vault door – slim, dark complexioned, black moustasche, slight but tall

Second man – sandy side-whiskers, shaved chin, blue eyes

Third man – heavy-set, curly brown hair, week’s growth of beard

Bank employee, A. E. Bunker, identified those in the bank as one of the James, Charlie Pitts, and Bob Younger.

Further Reading:Younger, Thomas Coleman, The Story of Cole Younger by Himself: An Autobiography of the Missouri Guerrilla, Confederate Cavalry Officer, and Western Outlaw, original publication 1903 – The ultimate primary source on the Northfield robbery written by one of the robbers, Cole Younger. He does give a reasonably full account of the robbery from his perspective, and of their capture and imprisonment. Cole is less than totally forthcoming in his information and is trying very hard to provide a sympathetic front–he was trying to get a full pardon at the time he wrote–yet still provides some fascinating personal insights into the Northfield raid. He also gives his war-time history, much of which is lifted pretty much verbatim from Edward’s “Noted Guerrillas,” a book of which he thought highly. Cole Younger’s book is especially interesting to read for what he doesn’t say as what he does, and for the careful dance of semantics he goes through to avoid outright lies.

Koblas, John, The Jesse James Northfield Raid: Confessions of the Ninth Man, North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 1999 – just a dandy book in every regard. This is a purely Minnesota-centric history of the James and Youngers unfortunate visit to Minnesota in 1876. The author begins with the story of a man who claimed that Chadwell and Stiles were two separate people and that he was “the ninth man” at the Northfield robbery. Koblas tracks the James and Youngers progress and movements across Minnesota in minute, exacting detail (yet still very good reading!) and gives credence, or not, to Stiles claim. Lots of photos and good writing.

See alsoCivil War St. Louis Reviews: “When the Heavens Fell: The Youngers in Stillwater Prison” by John Koblas and “The Great Cole Younger & Frank James Historical Wild West Show” by John Koblas

Huntington, George, Robber and Hero: The Story of the Northfield Bank Raid, Northfield Historical Society, originally published 1895 – Probably the best and most accurate account of the robbery attempt in Northfield, Minnesota. This book was written less than twenty years after the event and so had considerable first-hand imput by still-living witnesses and participants.

More book sources

Possibilities and unanswered questions…

Were Frank and Jesse James at Northfield?

Cole Younger says: Every blood-and-thunder history of the Younger brothers declares that Frank and Jesse James were the two members of the band that entered Northfield who escaped arrest or death.

They were not, however. One of those two men was killed afterward in Arizona and the other died from fever some years afterward.

There were reasons why the James and the Younger brothers could not take part in any such project as that at Northfield. (he goes on to describe an incident that illustrated his intense dislike of Jesse James, though he remained friends with Frank James until his death) He says two other men “whose names on the expedition” were Woods and Howard were the two who got away. Jesse and Frank James around this time, and for several years after, used the names Woodson and Howard. Cole Younger was, however, careful never to implicate the James in the Northfield robbery in any substantive way, though such testimony may well have gotten them shorter sentences (they were denied parole several times because they refused to name the two who got away).

The day after their capture, in a hotel where they were treated for their numerous bullet wounds, a reporter interviewed Cole Younger. John Jay Lemon in “The Northfield Tragedy” says:

The writer mentioned to them that the other two, the James Brothers, were captured, one dead and the other dying. This seemed to affect them. Cole asking who was dead, the smaller one or larger of the two, adding the caution, “mind I don’t say they are the James brothers.” When the writer said that they had acknowledged who they were Cole then asked, “Did they say anything of us?” When answered in the negative he replied, “Good boys to the last.”

When Sheriff Glispin asked Cole to name the two who escaped capture, Cole responded by handing him a note saying, “Be true to your friends if the Heavens fall.” He never named the James in the robbery except in the apparent deathbed admission. Jim Younger, in letters written from prison, did apparently name both the James as the other two participants, however.

Another possibility that has occasionally been suggested is that Frank James was at Northfield, but not Jesse.

Cole Younger’s statement, “One of those two men was killed afterward in Arizona and the other died from fever some years afterward,” I believe is trying to suggest that the other two were John Jarrette–who is later placed in Arizona by Edwards in Noted Guerrillas–and Arthur McCoy–who is said to have died of fever or pneumonia in Texas. This is a purely speculative observation but may be the direction Younger was trying to shift credit away from the James. Jarrette and McCoy would fit the descriptions of the other two at Northfield reasonably well.

Was there a ninth man at Northfield?

This is an occasional theory. In 1913 a man named Bill Stiles claimed that Bill Chadwell was not an alias for Stiles; that they were two separate people and that he-Stiles-was the ninth man at Northfield, covering their exit from town. Other suggested as the “ninth man” include Jim Cummins (who really, really wanted to be as notorious as his dime novel legend but never was) and various others of the gang.

At the time of the robbery there was a statement from witnesses that nine strangers had been seen riding toward the town. Other stray bits of information support the idea, but even more information does not. It’s certainly possible that there was a ninth, or even tenth or eleventh, man involved in the Northfield robbery, but solid evidence to support the idea does not seem to exist.

Was the bank targeted because of Ben Butler?

Cole Younger claimed they chose the bank at Northfield because it was owned by the hated Union General Benjamin Butler. If so, it was a last-minute choice. After roaming around half of southern Minnesota, they had apparently planned to rob a bank in Mankato. That plan was aborted when they attracted too much attention from a crowd near the first bank. They thought they’d been discovered, but it was apparently just admiration of their fine horses that caused the attention. The gang was reported to have scouted numerous banks in various towns in Minnesota and, in their roamings, had been as far north as St. Paul. Had Northfield been their original target such roaming would not have been necessary.

Cole Younger said: “Butler…had a lot of money invested, we were told, in the First National Bank at Northfield, as also had J. T. Ames, Butler’s son-in-law, who had been the ‘carpet-bag’ governor of Mississippi after the war.” Cole Younger wrote this in 1903, after having had time to consider it. I haven’t found this claim being made at the time of the robbery. Indeed, an article in the St. Peter Tribune in an interview with Bob Younger given soon after their capture says: We also asked why they had selected Northfield in preference to any of the other banks, and he said they thought there was much more money to be had there. He said that in Mankato there were three banks and the money was too much divided. In St. Peter they thought they wouldn’t have gotten much.

Did Butler actually own, or invest in, the bank at Northfield, Minnesota? It does not appear to be so. Benjamin Butler’s daughter Blanche married Adelbert Ames, son of Jesse Ames. Maj.-Gen. Adelbert Ames had served during the war under General Butler and was later a ‘carpetbagger’ governor of Mississippi (not J. T. Ames as Cole Younger said). His father Jesse Ames, after retiring as a sea captain, was an owner of the flour mill in Northfield. They bought the mill in Northfield in 1864, building a new mill in 1870. He was retired by 1876 with his son John T. Ames then owning the mill. Gen. Benjamin Butler had visited Minnesota a number of times (he lived in Massachusetts), including visits to Northfield, home of his daughter’s in-laws. The officers of the First National Bank of Northfield do include Jesse Ames as Vice-President, and Jesse Ames and J. T. Ames as two of the directors. There does not appear, however, to be any direct link to Benjamin Butler or direct participation by his son-in-law Adelbert Ames. The “J. T. Ames” Cole Younger names above was John Thomas Ames, a brother to Adelbert, not related to Butler.

Adelbert Ames is said by some sources to have been in Northfield at the time of the robbery and was recognized by the robbers. J. T. Ames was one of the organizers of the pursuit of the robbers. It is, however, not impossible that Adelbert Ames was there visiting family at the time (he did not live in Minnesota). John Koblas in “The Jesse James Northfield Raid” cites Adelbert Ames’ presence to the “Northfield News,” a 1929 article, with a second source from a Faribault newspaper in 1876. Koblas say Adelbert Ames was near Wheeler during the shooting.

About three years after the Northfield robbery Ames appears to have leased some interest in his mill to Benjamin Butler. Cole Younger’s attributing the robbery to Benjamin Butler is, at best, stretching the inaccurate thread of connections and is more likely what it is usually taken to be—a convenient excuse rather than a primary motivation. Invoking Butler’s name, as Younger did, would cause an immediate, visceral reaction on the part of most Southerners in sympathy to the robbers, whether justified or not. It was, if nothing else, a shrewd publicity move. Whether to take the Butler story seriously as a motivation for the robbery depends, too, on what the outlaws believed at the time–at present the only claim I’ve found that Butler was their motivation comes from Cole Younger nearly 25 years after the fact.

Officers of the bank at the time of the robbery were:

J. C. Nutting, President

Jesse Ames, Vice-President

G. M. Phillips, Cashier


J. C. Nutting

Jesse Ames

J. T. Ames

M. Wilson

E. T. Archibald

H. Thoreson

C. S. Hulbert

W. M. Norton

G. M. Phillips

(sources: Rice County Journal, Sept. 14, 1876, Northfield Newspaper headline index, various genealogical source records, Minnesota cemetery records and newspaper indexes, 1880 US Census, The Union Army A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65, “Frank and Jesse James” by Ted P. Yeatman, autobiography of Cole Younger, “Robber and Hero” by George Huntington)

Was Northfield Cole Younger’s first and only robbery?

So he claimed. Interestingly, George Sheperd backed Cole in that claim in a quite forthright statement (as opposed to a vague denial). Sheperd, in an interview with J. W. Buel, said, “Speaking of Cole Younger, I have no hesitancy in saying that, outside of the affair at Northfield, I don’t believe he was ever connected with the James Boys, or that he ever participated in any of the robberies.” All things considered it seems extremely improbable, but decide for yourself. The Robberies chart does suggest Cole Younger was probably guilty of far fewer things than is generally thought. George Sheperd and Cole Younger were not on good terms and Sheperd had no reason to defend Younger or his reputation, yet, as a reliable witness, Sheperd has some serious credibility problems.

Bob Younger also said it was his first robbery. If not his first, it may have been very near to it.

In the case of Jim Younger, a number of people then and now think it may have been, in fact, his first and last robbery. When he was greeted by his sister, Retta, in jail, she is reported to have said, “Oh! Jim, this is too bad. If it had not been for Cole and Bob you would never have been here. They enticed you to do this.” – from “The Northfield Tragedy” 1876

The Citizens & Heroes of Northfield…

Joseph Lee Heywood – killed in the bank, refused to open the vault:A man modest, true, gentle; diligent in business; conscientious in duty; a citizen benevolent and honorable; towards God reverent and loyal; who, while defending his trust as a bank officer, fearlessly met death at the hands of armed robbers, in Northfield, Sept. 7, 1876

This tablet is inscribed by his friends as a tribute to heroic fidelity.


(Carlton College memorial plaque–Heywood has served as college treasurer)

Joseph Lee Heywood, was born August 12, 1837 in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire of a farming family. He joined the Union army August 21, 1862 as a member of the 127th Illinois Regiment, Co. B. Participated in the siege of Vicksburg and the capture of Arkansas Post. He enlisted as a private and was discharged as a corporal. Heywood moved to Northfield, Minnesota in the fall of 1867. He worked for five years as a bookkeeper in a lumberyard. In 1872 he became bookkeeper of the First National Bank of Northfield, in service of which he was murdered.

Heywood was married first to Martha R. (Mattie) Buffum (she died May 3, 1873) and, after her death, to Lizzie Adams. One daughter, Lizzie May (born April 25, 1871), by his first marriage, age five at his death, survived him. Lizzie May later graduated from Carlton College and became a music teacher (she died Dec. 1947, wife of Rev. Edwin Carlton Dean). Banks in the United States and Canada donated $12,000 to the support of Heywood’s family after his death.

At the time of his death, Heywood was both City Treasurer and treasurer of Carlton College.

“Mr. Heywood was, beyond most men, modest and timid. He shrank from the public gaze; and, considering his high gifts and his standing in the community, he was retiring almost to a fault. He set a low estimate upon himself. He would not own to himself, did not even seem to know, that he was lovable and well-beloved. He courted no praise and sought no reward. Honors must come to him unsought if they came at all. He would be easily content to toil on, out of sight and with services unrecognized, but in every transaction he must be conscientious through and through, and do each hour to the full the duties of the hour.” –Funeral Discourse on Joseph Lee Heywood

The President has been inspecting the new time lock which had just been placed upon the door of the vault. The circumstance recalled to his mind the famous St. Albans bank-raid, which had especially interested him through his personal acquaintance with the victimized cashier. Having spoken of the course pursued by the raiders in that case, he said, in mere playfulness, to Mr. Heywood, “Now if robbers should come in here and order you to open this vault, would you do it?” With a quiet smile, and in his own modest way, Mr. Heywood answered, “I think not.”

–Robber and Hero by George Huntington, 1895

quoting James Woodward Strong, Carlton College President

Alonzo E. Bunker – bank teller, ran from bank and was shot by Pitts:“The part taken by Mr. Bunker in the encounter with the robbers in the bank… shows him to be a man of nerve, cool and self-collected in danger, and capable of bold action. Though not subjected to the brutal treatment inflicted upon Mr. Heywood, he was subjected to a similar temptation to secure his own safety by yielding to the demands of the robbers; and he kept such possession of his faculties; mental and physical, as to seize the first opportunity–an opportunity not afforded to Heywood–to break from his captors and escape under fire. The wound he received at that time was a dangerous one, and narrowly missed being fatal…”

–Robber and Hero by George Huntington, 1895

Bunker also tried to get a hold of a derringer kept on a shelf below the teller’s window but was spotted. The small gun was later found on Pitt’s body.

A. E. Bunker was the second son of Enos A. and Martha M. Bunker of Littleton, New Hampshire, where he was born March 29, 1849. He came to Minnesota in 1855. In 1869 he graduated from St. Paul Business College. In 1871 he studied for two years at Carlton College in Northfield. In 1873 he began working for the First National Bank of Northfield. Bunker married Nettie L. Smith in 1875. After the robbery, Bunker remained with the bank for two more years. In 1880 he left Northfield, moved several times, in connection with the Western Newspaper Union. In 1890 he was a manager in Des Moines, Iowa.

Frank J. Wilcox – assistant bookkeeper of the bankFrank J. Wilcox was the son of Baptist minister James F. Wilcox. Frank was born September 8, 1848 in Taunton, Massachusetts. The family moved to Northfield when he was ten years old. He attended Carleton College in Northfield, followed by Chicago University. After returning to Northfield he worked numerous temporary jobs, one of which landed him as assistant bookkeeper in the First National Bank on the day of the robbery. Though his role in the robbery was largely passive, he was praised for his support of his co-workers refusal to cooperate with the robbers even at risk of their lives. After the robbery his job was made permanent and he remained at the bank for at least twenty more years. In 1879 he married Jennie M. Blake and with her was an active member of the Northfield community.

A number of Northfield citizens immediately moved to defend their town but were either unarmed or poorly armed. Elias Hobbs and Justice Streater resorted to throwing rocks at the bank robbers. Elias Stacy shot Clell Miller in the face with bird shot. J. B. Hyde, Ross Phillips, and James Gregg also used shotguns that weren’t powerful enough to do much damage. The two men with rifles, Wheeler and Manning, were credited with routing the bank robbers from their town.

Henry M. Wheeler, killed Clell Miller and wounded Bob Younger. At the time of the raid he was a 22 year old medical student. He was home on summer vacation from college when the bank robbery occurred. From his father’s pharmacy he saw the suspicious strangers. He gave an alarm then was driven from the street by the armed robbers. With an old army carbine and three cartridges, he fired from a window of the Dampier Hotel. Wheeler moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1881 where he worked as a doctor. Anselm R. Manning, killed Bill Chadwell and wounded Cole Younger. Manning was 43 years old at the time of the robbery. He was carpenter and blacksmith from Canada who had lived in Northfield since 1856. His first shot was standing in the open on the street and killed one of the robber’s horses. Then his breech-loading rifle jammed and he had to go back to his store to fix it. Coming back to the fight he fired more carefully, from better cover, wounding Cole Younger. He reloaded and killed Chadwell. Manning died in 1909.

Link: Jesse James and the Northfield Bank Raid

Excepts from the dime novel “The James Boys in Minnesota,” published in 1882…

The cold steel-like glitter which had been indelibly stamped in their eyes, on that summer day in 1861, when Jesse’s back smarted under blows, and he swore to wipe out the indignity with blood, seemed to become colder and harder, as they reflected on what the night might bring forth.

“Jesse, we are in a nest of robbers,” said Frank.

“Yes, and murderers,” replied Jesse. “We must teach them a lesson.”

“I think so.”

“We must wipe the entire bloodthirsty set from the face of existence!”

“It’s a duty we owe society,” said Jesse, with a light laugh. “We are working now wholly for the benefit of society.”

“Yes,” replied Frank, without the least bit of humor in his voice.

“It may be that by ridding the world of such wretches, Frank, that we may kind a balance accounts for some of our own missteps.” [subplot, fictitious, I believe, about their trip to Minnesota]

“The James Boys and the Youngers. The noted Missouri train robbers and highwaymen will make an attack upon the town today.!”

One of the bandits now placed a revolver at Mr. Heywood’s head and fired. The man who had been so faithful to his duty fell to the floor and expired without a groan.

Jesse mounted his horse with the reins in his teeth and a revolver in each hand, old guerrilla fashion, charged again and again up the street, clearing it each time.

Three more men came out of the bank and joined the other bandits in the fight. Through the shifting clouds of battle smoke which hovered above the field of carnage, the eager eyes of Eva Leigh pierced. Now her heart leaped wild with fear as she thought or feared she recognized a familiar form.

The bandits are mounted, their tall commanding chieftain, the Bandit King orders the retreat.  [subplot of the dime novel was a romance between this girl and Cole Younger]

Bob Younger was almost disabled from the start, and when the besiegers closed in upon the little camp, they found Cole Younger down with seven wounds, Jim Younger with his jaw shattered, Bob with his right arm hanging useless and with two fresh wounds, and Clell Miller with his hands still clutched, and a hard look upon his dead face. [Charlie Pitts, actually]

They were now prisoners, but captives among a Christian people. Their wounds were dressed, they were moved as gently as the situation allowed, and at Madelia, where they rested for a time, were treated with kindness.

Frank and Jesse James were the only outlaws of the eight who had gone on the disastrous expedition to Northfield, Minnesota, who escaped.

They were pursued vigilantly to the very border lines and far beyond; but no man can yet boast that he has ever captured one of the wonderful James Boys. A price was set upon their heads, and they seemed never to forget it, as their atrocious acts since bear witness.

Another Dime Novel “Jesse James, The Outlaw” on-line from Stanford University

More information on the Northfield robbery will be forthcoming.

Ste Genevieve Robbery

The Ste. Genevieve, Missouri Robbery

Ste. Genevieve, Missouri – Ste. Genevieve Savings Association

May 27, 1873

about $4000 taken

“Ste. Genevieve is an old French town situated upon one of the gently sloping bluffs of the Mississippi River. Built under the French regime it still retains the distinguishing characteristics of that race. Its people and institutions are generally Catholic, and there is a strange rest and dreamy quiet pervading even the atmosphere, and widely at variance with the rush and bustle of the unadulterated American. Quaint, gabled houses, surrounded with spacious gardens, where roses and honey-suckles perfume the mild May air, one can almost fancy one’s self in some outlying province of sunny France.

Genial, hospitable people meet with a lingering cordiality, at least of words, unknown to the more dashing American citizen. Neighbor languidly chats with neighbor from adjoining gardens, and chatter in their Creole French as volubly as the saucy sparrows which are adjusting their quarrels and love affairs just without the window, upon its narrow ledge.

On this this particular May morning [May 27, 1873], however, these dreamy people are doomed to be rudely awakened by a terrifying incident…

The Life, Times & Treacherous Death of Jesse James

by Frank Triplett, 1882

From a St. Louis newspaper account of the robbery:

St. Louis Weekly Globe May 30, 1873:

Sublime Audacity

One of the boldest Bank Robberies on Record

Thieves enter a bank in the day time

Flight of the robbers and their pursuit by citizens armed with shot-guns

If there is any operation in which the audaciousness of pure deviltry ever be displayed, it is in the exercise of robbing a bank in broad daylight. …

Situated upon the corner of Merchant street and Main stands a two-story brick house, formerly occupied as  dwelling but now used as a banking-house by the Ste. Genevieve Saving Association; General F. A. Rosier is President and O. D. Harris, Esq..,, Cashier

Rozier bank in Ste. Genevieve

This may not be the bank that was robbed May 27, 1873, but instead may have been one later purchased by F. A. Rozier, previous owner of the Ste. Genevieve Savings Association. The above building was built in 1820. From the location description it appears to be on the same street, but a block away, from the bank that was robbed.

…When halfway in the room the Cashier happened to turn his head and was startled at sight of two pistols pointed at his temples, and was most thoroughly aroused to the delicacy of the situation, as he felt the cold muzzles  quickly pressed to them. The force used by the robbers was so great that for houses afterwards one of his temples showed the mark of the pistol barrel. Before he could remonstrate he was saluted with a stirring command, “open the safe or I’ll blow your d—d brains out.’’ Mr. Harris hesitated about opening the safe, which being observed, cause the robbers to level their pistols at Rozier, threatening to shoot him if he should run.

But Rozier broke away and was confronted by the two other men on horseback, who were concealed from observation.

…The robbers speedily released Mr. Harris, mounted their horses, and the four commenced firing in all directions in intimidate pursuers. Above the report of shots was heard a wild “Hurrah! For Sam Hildebrand, catch the horse-thieves if you can,” and the rapid hoofbeats of the retreating horses showed that the “job” was finished..

…Two of the robbers slept the night before at a farm house two miles out. They knew that General Rozier, the President, whose room was on the same floor with the bank room, was absent…

The robbery, one of the boldest on record,, did not pan out very handsomely, as the booty amounted to only $3600.

From the Ste. Genevieve Fair Play, May 29, 1873:

Daring Robbery!

A Four Thousand Dollar Haul!

Four Men Walk into the Merchants Bank of Ste. Genevieve in Open Daylight and Rob the Safe of it Contents and Escape!!

Tuesday morning at 10 o’clock… Four men rode into town on horseback and hitched their horses in the vicinity of Mr. Anderson’s store, they walked leisurely up to the bank; two of them stopped outside and two of them started into the bark…

…each one drew a pistol and presented it to Mr. Harris’ head and said, “Open the safe, damn you, or I will blow your brains out.”

From a St. Louis newspaper following the Adair County, Iowa train robbery:

Information was received yesterday at the police headquarters which taken with facts before known, leave not the shadow of doubt but that several members of the party who robbed the train on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad near Adair, Iowa, on Monday night, were the gang who robbed the Ste. Genevieve Bank last May and have been connected with other villainies of a similar character, perpetrated during the past three or four years.

[Arthur McCoy] was the one who held the pistol to the head of the Cashier of the bank… More on Arthur McCoy

“Branded as Rebels” by Joanne Chiles Eakins says Arthur McCoy led this robbery with a couple of the Youngers with him.

From my research into McCoy’s background and movements it became clear McCoy knew Ste. Genevieve intimately, having numerous relatives there, many of whom owned the bank or were major contributors until, at least, shortly before this robbery. McCoy had also lived in Ste. Genevieve for several years after the war.

Happy Holidays in Civil War St Louis

“Happy” Holidays in Civil War St. Louis

by D. H. Rule

If it hasn’t been terribly clear from the other pages on this website so far, your webmasters–Deb & Geo Rule–are extremely fond of the strange, and sometimes bitter, historical ironies that are threaded throughout the history of the Civil War in St. Louis, such as the fervent abolitionists who joined the Confederacy, and the powerful Unionists who were adamant slaveowners, and so on.

Here, then, are accounts of Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays in a city at war reflecting that sense of irony… May your own holidays be happier!

Thanksgiving, 1861:On Thanksgiving Day of 1861, a secession family, living next door to me, determined to cheer some of their disloyal friends shut up in the Gratiot Street prison, by setting before them an abundant and delicious dinner. Their neighbors of like political views threw themselves with ardor into the scheme. Early in the day baskets full of appetizing food were brought from every direction, until these parcels, piled one upon another, quite covered the floor of their front hall. Then a covered wagon appeared at the door. Into it all these tempting viands were hastily packed and harried to the military prison. Those in charge of them asked the officer of the day, if they could give the prisoners a Thanksgiving dinner. He assured them that it would give him great pleasure to receive the food that had been so thoughtfully and kindly provided, but since it was contrary to orders to allow any outsiders to enter the prison, he would himself distribute the contents of the baskets and be careful that the most needy should not be overlooked. Two Iowa regiments that had just arrived had been sent down to Gratiot Street to do guard duty. They were weary, cold and hungry. The officer who had received the food, sent by devoted secession women, deeming these newly arrived soldiers to be the most needy, gave to them the roast turkey, fried chicken, mince pies, cranberry sauce, roast pig and apple sauce, and kept the disloyal within the prison walls on wholesome, but coarser, diet. While that commanding officer told no explicit lie, the ethics of his act will hardly bear very close inspection. He may have justified his deception by the fact that we were in a state of war, and have erroneously thought that war excuses “a multitude of sins.”

from “The Story of a Border City During the Civil War,” by Galusha Anderson1908

(available on Missouri Civil War Reader Vol. 1)

Christmas 1861:

DECEMBER, 25, 1861.—To-day is what we used to call Christmas at home, sweet home, where my wife and baby are. “Do they miss me at home, do they miss me?” God bless them and give them “Merry Christmas.” They little imagine how we pass our holiday Christmas!

Capt. Griffin Frost

Christmas 1863:

Another week of prison life, has dragged its long length slowly by, taking a joyous Christmas in its train. Tuesday was a day of perfect stagnation. The Feds thought of no new method of cmelty, and we submitted to all the plans in operation. Old Gratiot was like a ship becalmed in Southern seas. Wednesday a little breeze sprung up on the admission of a citizen prisoner, a Mr. O’Neal, from Herman, Gasconade county, arrested for speaking disloyally. He seems somewhat uneasy, and well he may if there is any prospect of his being shipped east. We see in an old copy of the Columbus Crisis, which an underground accident threw in our way, that political prisoners at Camp Chase fare even worse than prisoners of war do here. The following is the article in full, which we copy for future reference—it bears date December 24, 1862.

“We speak wholly of the political prison, of the State, as we know nothing whatever of what occurs in the prison where “rebels taken in arms” are kept—that is, “the prisoner of war.”…

Friday was Christmas day—I cannot speak for those jamming and crowding around in their rags in the lower quarters, nor for those in the lock-ups whose heavy balls and chains are eating into their ankles, while the still more deadly iron of despair is cankering in their souls, their Christmas enjoyments are best known to themselves, but as a specimen from our quarters, decidedly the best in Gratiot, I will chronicle the events of my holiday operations, commencing at six o’clock in the morning, when I arose and answered to roll call, then breakfast—pickled pork, bread and coffee; went out in the hall and peeped from the window awhile, then went back to our room and warmed, from thence to the window again—in and warmed, and out again; this time saw some Feds starting off; also saw several lady friends; went in again and watched the boys play cards, which is the only amusement they have; got tired of that and returned to the window; stood there and wished for the privilege of being out where I could enjoy myself with my friends, but wishing was all I could do, so I yawned and sighed and went into the pickled pork dinner. Frank Noel declared he would not insult his stomach with the cod livery stuff, and so confined himself to a limited supply of baker’s bread and coffee. Frank has not been here long—he will come to it yet—he ought to sojourn in the lower quarters, if he wants the kinks taken out of his stomach, there is not much turning up of noses down there I guess, no matter what is set before them. After dinner a fellow prisoner sent me a pear, I don’t know how he obtained it, but I regarded it as a most acceptable Christmas gift, appreciating it for its own intrinsic sweetness, as well as the generous refinement which actuated the donor. Fine fruits are not so plentiful in Gratiot as to be given away without self sacrifice. We did not tarry unusually long at the festal board, but sought the more inviting precincts of the hall window; saw some ladies pass—did not “throw kisses or wave my handkerchief,” but I thought “as long as I have the spirit of a man I will peep.” I won’t say the ladies didn’t peep some too. They looked at our gloomy walls as though they would like to have Aladdin’s Lamp, and make the Genii spirit us off, prison and all, into some far country where they could have opened our doors, and feasted us in the most royal manner, but their wishes were no more effectual than mine. I gazed for awhile longer at the paving stones, imagined they had a hard hearted appearance, lying there watching us; went back to my room, picked up the romance of “Zaidee,” read an hour or two, and—went back to the window for a last look, stood some ten or fifteen minutes, saw nothing of interest and left; went to the lamp room, brought up our lamp, pulled out the table, and played cards till time to go to bed, and thus ended Christmas day 1863, in the officer’s quarters, Gratiot street Military Prison, St. Louis, Mo. Not much after the style in vogue in the palmy days of old Dr. McDowell and his Medical College. Wonder how that gentleman would feel to walk around his premises and take a view of the students now gathered in the institution together with the faculty presiding over the establishment. His remarks on such an occasion would be rich beyond a doubt. More than one Yank would burn beneath the touch of his caustic wit.—Christmas day passed off dull enough, and we stole to our beds as quietly as chained dogs to their kennels. Slept till midnight, when a militia horse thief from the lower quarters, came running up and informed the prison officers that the lock-up prisoners were about to make their escape. Of course the whole gang were out in a minute, they went down and discovered that a hole had been cut through the floor of Clifford’s and Carlin’s room, through which they proposed to let themselves down by blankets, when they would be joined by a lot from the lower quarters, and all make a rush on the guards and as many escape as possible. It would have been a perfect success if it had not been for the coward who reported. The next day Clifford was thrown into a solitary dungeon, the darkest pit in the prison; and Carlin, Sebring and one other, were taken down into the yard, and hand-cuffed and chained to a post—after they had stood there for several hours, a second squad was brought down and chained to another post, where they could be seen from a Southern residence across the street. They were kept there until late at night, although the weather was extremely cold; they stamped, shouted, and sung to keep from freezing; we could hear them after we went to bed, thumping the pavement, and singing “Hard times.” The same thing was repeated yesterday and to-day, except Carlin had a post to himself, and the weather much colder; we find it difficult to keep comfortable by the fire, and yet we hear “Hard times come again no more” pealing out on the frozen air. They unchain them and take them in to eat their meals. While passing near the kitchen one of them struck an old fellow over the head and “made the blood flow” pretty freely, it was the father of the horse thief who reported on them, and said to be the cause of his son’s doing so. Desperate measures will cook desperation. I guess they would have killed the old sinner if they could. While they are chained at the post, old Masterson goes out and stands and scolds as long as he can endure the cold, then he comes in and takes an easy chair, smacks his lips, and admires his own bravery; chuckling over the big things he said to them. Had another letter from John, and one from home, the latter reads:

“I have a bid to a Christmas dinner, but do not expect to go, for I could not enjoy myself and you in prison. All the pleasure I expect to see is when Annie gets her doll, which I have been dressing to-day. Dear little creature, she is more company for me than all the rest. She talks a great deal about “Old Kris,” and what she expects him to bring her. I would like to send you a turkey, but know it would be useless.”

Capt. Griffin Frost, 1863

Christmas 1863:About two P.M.. on Christmas eve, 1863, as I was going down an outside stairway to get water from the hydrant, a prisoner (whom I knew) was standing at a window that opened on the stairway. He handed me a note which said: ‘Ten of its have procured an ax and some other useful tools and Dave planned to break out tonight; if your men in Room No. 3 can manage to get down in lower room by ten o’clock we will have our plans in operation and you can join us.’ I read the note to the boys in my room, No. 3, and we decided we would join them; it would be a little relief from the monotony and give us some exercise whether we succeeded in escaping or not.

Our large coal heating stove stood in one corner of our three-cornered room. The weather was quite warm but we built up a good fire in order to heat the two pokers we had red-hot. With these I burned a succession of holes in a circle, in this way removing a round block from the floor about fourteen inches in diameter. This hole was complete by ten o’clock. We then looked down into the lower room–where there were more than fifty prisoners–and right under the hole stood four guards waiting for us. They said: ‘Hello, boys, how are you?’ Come on down–we will help you !’ ‘Well, I guess not, we will put our trip off until later.’ After guying each other a while we stuck the block back in the hole and in a jolly manner discussed the episode. While I was burning the holes in the floor my six room-mates pulled our long pine table in a position that hid me from the guard who paced the hall past our grated window. The boys made all the noise they could with a game of cards. There was no investigation made of us or our room that night; not a word said by the officials. Next morning as soon as we had breakfast and cleaned up our room Sergt. Mike Welch said: ‘Gentlemen I have a little treat in store for you so get your hats and come with me.’ He took us down to the yard and to the porch of the old McDowell dwelling house and handcuffed three and three of us around the two posts. As Sam Clifford was the seventh man and there was no room at the posts for him he was placed in a dungeon at the south end of the house.

Next day the stunt was rehearsed; by the third morning a proposition was produced by old Mike that all who would promise not to try to escape would be permitted to remain in our room. Four of the boys gave the required promise. Sebring, Clifford and myself refused to accept any such terms and so we were reinstated. Clifford was put into the dungeon, Sebring and myself handcuffed around the post daily and we enjoyed the company and the hospitality of the Confederate officers.

Maj. Absalom Grimes, memoirs, 1911

Christmas 1861:The Medical College and the Collegians,–Active preparations are being made for the accommodation of the prisoners confined in McDowell’s College. The institution is in charge of Lient. Batterworth, and under his supervision cooking ranges and sleeping bunks are being constructed, and everything will soon be properly systemized. Until then, it will be impossible to obtain the names of the prisoners. The officers will be assigned separate apartments from the men. The building is capable of accommodating two thousand men. The room which was formerly used dissecting purposes is used as a dining room”

St. Louis Democrat, Dec. 27, 1861

Christmas 1861:Office of the Provost-Marshal General

of the Department of the Missouri

St. Louis, Mo., Dec. 20, 1861

You are herby notified that, pursuant to General Orders No. 23, from the headquarters of the Department of the Missouri, directing a levy upon the friends of the enemy for charitable purposes, you have been assessed the sum of ___ hundred dollars as your contribution in aid of the suffering families driven by the rebels from Southwestern Missouri.

You will, therefore, pay the amount so assessed, or its equivalent in clothing, provisions, or quarters, to me within five days after the service of this notice upon you, or, in default thereof, execution will be issued against your property for sufficient to satisfy the assessments, costs, and twenty-five percent penalty in addition. Should you elect to pay your assessment in clothing, provisions, or quarters, you will give notice of such intention to this office, accompanying the same with an inventory and description of the articles, or of the situation and value of the quarters tendered, which will be accepted the same with an inventory and description of the articles, or of the situation and value of the quarters tendered, which will be accepted, subject to an appraisement of the same by me.

Bernard G. Farrar, Provost-Marshal-General

(affidavits of loyalty were due to be filed on or before December 26, 1861)

Throughout December they poured in on the afflicted city, already overtaxed. All the way to Springfield the road was lined with remains of articles once dear —a child’s doll, a little rocking chair, a colored print that had hung in the best room, a Bible text.

Anne Brinsmade, driven by Nicodemus, went from house to house to solicit old clothes, and take them to the crowded place of detention. Christmas was drawing near —a sorry Christmas, in truth. And many of the wanderers were unclothed and unfed.

More battles had been fought; factions had arisen among Union men. Another general had come to St. Louis to take charge of the Department, and the other with his wondrous body guard was gone.

The most serious problem confronting the new general was —how to care for the refugees. A council of citizens was called at headquarters, and the verdict went forth in the never to be forgotten Orders No. 24. “Inasmuch,” said the General, “as the Secession army had driven these people from their homes, Secession sympathizers should be made to support them.” He added that the city was unquestionably full of these. Indignation was rife the day that order was published. Sixty prominent “disloyalists” were to be chosen and assessed to make up a sum of ten thousand dollars.

“They may sell my house over my head before I will pay a cent,” cried Mr. Russell. And he meant it. This was the way the others felt. Who were to be on this mysterious list of “Sixty”? That was the all absorbing question of the town. It was an easy matter to pick the conspicuous ones. Colonel Carvel was sure to be there, and Mr. Catherwood and Mr. Russell and Mr. James, and Mr. Worington the lawyer. Mrs. Addison Colfax lived for days in a fermented state of excitement which she declared would break her down; and which, despite her many cares and worries, gave her niece not a little amusement. For Virginia was human, and one morning she went to her aunt’s room to read this editorial from the newspaper:

“For the relief of many palpitating hearts it may be well to state that we understand only two ladies are on the ten thousand dollar list.”

“Jinny,” she cried, “how can you be so cruel as to read me that, when you know that I am in a state of frenzy now? How does that relieve me? It makes it an absolute certainty that Madame Jules and I will have to pay. We are the only women of importance in the city.” That afternoon she made good her much uttered threat, and drove to Bellegarde. Only the Colonel and Virginia and Mammy Easter and Ned were left in the big house. Rosetta and Uncle Ben and Jackson had been hired out, and the horses sold —all save old Dick, who was running, long haired, in the fields at Glencoe.

Christmas eve was a steel gray day, and the sleet froze as it fell. Since morning Colonel Carvel had sat poking the sitting room fire, or pacing the floor restlessly. His occupation was gone. He was observed night and day by Federal detectives. Virginia strove to arouse him, to conceal her anxiety as she watched him. Well she knew that but for her he would long since have fled southward, and often in the bitterness of the night time she blamed herself for not telling him to go. Ten years had seemed to pass over him since the war had begun.

All day long she had been striving to put away from her the memory of Christmas eves past and gone; of her father’s early home coming from the store, a mysterious smile on his face; of Captain Lige stamping noisily into the house, exchanging uproarious jests with Ned and Jackson. The Captain had always carried under his arm a shapeless bundle which he would confide to Ned with a knowing wink. And then the house would be lighted from top to bottom, and Mr. Russell and Mr. Catherwood and Mr. Brinsmade came in for a long evening with Mr. Carvel over great bowls of apple toddy and eggnog. And Virginia would have her own friends in the big parlor. That parlor was shut up now, and icy cold.

Then there was Judge Whipple, the joyous event of whose year was his Christmas dinner at Colonel Carvel’s house. Virginia pictured him this year at Mrs. Brice’s little table, and wondered whether he would miss them as much as they missed him. War may break friendships, but it cannot take away the sacredness of memories.

The somber daylight was drawing to an early close as the two stood looking out of the sitting room window. A man’s figure muffled in a greatcoat slanting carefully across the street caught their eyes. Virginia started. It was the same United States deputy marshal she had seen the day before at Mr. Russell’s house.

“Pa,” she cried, “do you think he is coming here?”

“I reckon so, honey.”

“The brute! Are you going to pay?”

“No, Jinny.”

“Then they will take away the furniture.”

“I reckon they will.”

“Pa, you must promise me to take down the mahogany bed in your room. It —it was mother’s. I could not bear to see them take that. Let me put it in the garret.”

The Colonel was distressed, but he spoke without a tremor.

“No, Jinny. We must leave this house just as it is.” Then he added, strangely enough for him, “God’s will be done.”

The bell rang sharply. And Ned, who was cook and housemaid, came in with his apron on.

“Does you want to see folks, Marse Comyn?”

The Colonel rose, and went to the door himself. He was an imposing figure as he stood in the windy vestibule, confronting the deputy. Virginia’s first impulse was to shrink under the stairs. Then she came out and stood beside her father.

“Are you Colonel Carvel?”

“I reckon I am. Will you come in?”

The officer took off his cap. He was a young man with a smooth face, and a frank brown eye which paid its tribute to Virginia. He did not appear to relish the duty thrust upon him. He fumbled in his coat and drew from his inner pocket a paper.

“Colonel Carvel,” said he, “by order of Major General Halleck, I serve you with this notice to pay the sum of three hundred and fifty dollars for the benefit of the destitute families which the Rebels have driven from their homes. In default of payment within a reasonable time such personal articles will be seized and sold at public auction as will satisfy the demand against you.”

The Colonel took the paper. “Very well, sir,” he said. “You may tell the General that the articles may be seized. That I will not, while in my right mind, be forced to support persons who have no claim upon me.”

It was said in the tone in which he might have refused an invitation to dinner. The deputy marveled. He had gone into many houses that week; had seen indignation, hysterics, frenzy. He had even heard men and women whose sons and brothers were in the army of secession proclaim their loyalty to the Union. But this dignity, and the quiet scorn of the girl who had stood silent beside them, were new. He bowed, and casting his eyes to the vestibule, was glad to escape from the house.

The Colonel shut the door. Then he turned toward Virginia, thoughtfully pulled his goatee, and laughed gently.

“Lordy, we haven’t got three hundred and fifty dollars to our names,” said he.

fictional account from “The Crisis,” by Winston Churchill, 1901

(available on Missouri Civil War Reader Vol. 1)

Arthur McCoy

Arthur C. McCoy

by D. H. Rule

© D. H. Rule

Arthur C. McCoy, who became known as the “Wild Irishman” under Jo. Shelby, was born in Ireland about 1825. After coming to America he went to California where, according to a family history, he was a Forty-Niner in the goldfields. In 1850 he was in Centerville (now called Pilot Hill) in El Dorado County, California. Not far away, in Placerville, was Drury James, uncle of Frank and Jesse James. Their father, Robert James, had died shortly before in California. Whether Arthur McCoy met any of Missouri James family members in 1850 is unknown. It may have been coincidence that he came so near to crossing paths in 1850 with the family with whom his fate would be tied in the 1870s.

Before the Civil War McCoy lived in St. Louis, Missouri where he worked for a time as a coppersmith in “Blackman & McCoy,” a stove and tinware business he shared with William L. Blackman. Shortly before the outbreak of the war he had changed occupations, going into business as a painter, painting steamboats as well as houses. This line of work gave him the working knowledge of steamboats that made him an able boat-burner later.

McCoy was a member of the Liberty Fire Company, one of the volunteer fire departments in the St. Louis until paid fire fighting companies were established in 1858. Liberty Fire HouseThe Liberty Fire Company was known for its rowdiness and combativeness, fighting with other volunteer fire companies. Being in the fire company gave McCoy connections to both the business and political side of St. Louis, with John M. Wimer, a mayor of St. Louis, being one of its prominent members. Many of the early secessionists were connected to the fire company. McCoy had made the connections for his painting business, called “Farmer and McCoy” with Thomas Farmer, by way of the fire department as his partner’s father-in-law, a hardware store owner, had been a member.

McCoy seems to have met his wife through the fire department as well. In December of 1855 he married Louisa Gibson (baptised Heloise), youngest daughter of a well-to-do St. Louis family. His brother-in-law, Robert Louden, who also became a notorious Civil War spy, mail runner, and saboteur, met his wife Mary Gibson, Louisa’s sister, through the fire department connection he shared with Arthur McCoy. Family history says that McCoy spent some time living and operating a business in Alton, Illinois before returning to St. Louis. By 1859 he was again in St. Louis.

By 1860, Arthur and Louisa had two sons, Joseph, born in October 1856, and Arthur Willam, born in May 1858. Their first daughter, Elizabeth, was born in July of 1861.

Berthold MansionAccording to Basil Duke, Arthur McCoy was one of the founding members of the Minute Men, the secessionist organization formed in response to the Unionist Wide Awakes. McCoy’s brother-in-law Robert Louden was also known as a strong Minute Man. It was Arthur McCoy’s wife, Louisa, who is said to have sewed the secessionist flag that flew tauntingly over the Berthold mansion. McCoy was one of those who helped raise the Missouri state flag over the courthouse.

The passages below by John N. Edwards describe McCoy’s military service under Shelby during the Civil War. McCoy’s capture by the Federals took place just days after his son, Arthur William died in St. Louis. It’s possible the two events were connected as McCoy was known to pass in and out of St. Louis several times during the war, often carrying mail with him.

Further Reading: Jesse James Was His Name by William A. Settle, Jr.

General Jo Shelby: Undefeated Rebel
by Daniel O’Flaherty

General Jo Shelby

More books on the James-Younger gang

After the war, McCoy’s life and career are necessarily hazy. He was said to have been a member of the James-Younger gang of bank and train robbers. McCoy is believed to have been one of those involved in the killing of a Pinkerton agent investigating the James. Arthur McCoy is identified as one of those who participated in the robbery of the Russellville, Kentucky bank in 1868, the Adair, Iowa train robbery, as well as the Gad’s Hill train robbery, and numerous others through the first half of the 1870s. The one with the highest likelihood of attribution to McCoy is the Ste. Genevieve, Missouri robbery.

McCoy, though a city-boy from the eastern border of Missouri, would have made his connection to the western border train and bank robbers (most of whom were former Quantrill guerrillas) by way of John Jarrette. Jarrette was also a captain under Shelby in the last part of the war and was married to Cole Younger’s sister, Mary Josephine. More on this part of McCoy’s life.

For a time after the war, Arthur and Louisa McCoy lived in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. In the 1870s they had a farm in Montgomery County, Missouri. Two more sons, Lee and Eugene, were born to them. Family history tells it that Arthur did not particularly enjoy farming and so went to Texas to see about getting into cattle and living there. Other (published but unconfirmed) history says he was arrested for a stage robbery near Austin, Texas in 1874 for which one of the robbers confessed and named McCoy. By late 1874 or 1875 McCoy effectively vanished.

There is no confirmed death date for Arthur C. McCoy. The family believed he had died in Texas in the early 1880s. Other sources place his death in early 1874, several weeks before the Gad’s Hill train robbery in which he is often named (source: “Jesse James: The Man and the Myth” by Marley Brant–footnote unsourced). A reliable St. Louis source places his death as having been by 1880. Louisa McCoy also lists herself as a widow at this point.

Louisa Gibson McCoy remarried, lived briefly in the Oklahoma Territory where her second husband died, before returning to the St. Louis area. Around the turn of the century she and most of her children moved to Oregon and Idaho, where she remained until her death at age 81.

Related pages:

The Boat-Burners (McCoy’s brother-in-law, Robert Louden)

Rock Champion(a fellow Minute Man)

Minute Men(describing the St. Louis secessionist organization)

The James-Younger gang pages

Arthur McCoy: Confederate “Wild Irishman” of St. Louis


John N. Edwards

Introduction to author John N. Edwards

with notes by G. E. Rule

[Noted Guerillas]

All legs, and eagerness, and animal spirit McCoy reported to [William H.] Gregg [for duty in hunting down a group of bandits behind Confederate lines] as a schoolboy might report to his master for a holiday. McCoy laughed a great deal, Gregg scarcely at all; McCoy sang a song now and then that was next of kin to a bird’s song, Gregg was a taciturn, unmusical man; McCoy’s face was always mirthful, Gregg’s always in repose and as strong as Cromwell’s. As steadfast, heroic, and unconquerable fighters, neither could be surpassed.

Shelby’s advance [during Sterling Price’s raid into Missouri in 1864] had been led valiantly by Captain Arthur McCoy, and he associated [famous Confederate guerilla George] Todd with him and bade them fight together. McCoy had never been a Guerrilla. He had nothing in common with the Guerrillas except their desperation. He was a tinner [Actually, McCoy was a painter before the war but had worked as a coppersmith at a tin/metal working business before that] working in St. Louis when the war commenced. At the first tap of the recruiting drum, impetuous as a boy and as eager, he espoused the cause of the South and joined the 1st Missouri Confederate Infantry, Bowen’s immortal yet decimated regiment –that regiment with Beauregard lifted his hat to as it was marching past—or, rather, to what was left of it—after Shiloh, and exclaimed: “I salute the 1st Missouri. I uncover to courage that has never yet been surpassed.”

In the infantry, however, McCoy would have dwindled into a consumptive—for his chest was weak, and had that hectic flush, and that dry, short, rasping cough that were ominous. He needed the air and the exercise of a Comanche. He had to breath where there were no canvas house, no shelter, no covering save a blanket, and no habitation save the leaves on the trees.

After Shiloh, the name and fame of Shelby were beginning to fill the West, and there came to him, attracted by the unexampled enterprise and heroism of the man, quite a large number of daring spirits who asked only esprit de corps and a leader that would fight every hour in every day for a year and a day. Among them was Arthur McCoy, six feet and over, a little stooped about the shoulders, very long in the arms, having a stride like a racehorse, and a nervous energy that was expending itself even while he slept. All the lower face was massive—the lower jaw especially square cut and huge. The eyes were of that cold, glittering, penetrating blue that might be cruel as a serpent’s, soft and tender as the eyes of confidence or trust. When the battle was dubious or desperate, or when the wreck was darkest and thickest, and the dead lay rank and plentiful, the eyes seemed to transform themselves and become absolutely scintillant. About the man’s whole nature, too, there was an element of grotesqueness impossible to analyze. He sang little snatches of song in battle; he rode out in advance of his own skirmish line and challenged Federal skirmishers to single combat; he would get down on his knees under fire the most pitiless, uncover himself, and pray fervently beside some comrade mortally wounded; he seemed never to have known what the meaning of fear was; he begged incessantly to be sent upon forlorn and desperate service; he was a spy without a peer in either army; he was a scout that seemed to have leagued with the devil and received from his majesty invaluable protection papers; he charged pickets for pastime, and rode yelling and shooting through Federal outposts, at the head of fifty or sixty followers, at all hours and in any weather. Shelby’s division gave him the soubriquet of the “Wild Irishman”, and yet for cold calm, penetrating soldier-sense—for acuteness, military logic and undoubted strategy, McCoy had the head of Vidocq and the nerve of d’Artagnan. Seven times during the war—through the Federal lines, and past scouts, patrols, cantonments, and militia and predatory bands—McCoy came into St. Louis with a thousand letters at a time, and departed hence with as many more.

[Shelby and His Men]

Shelby broke ground first with unceasing activity. The second day after the arrival at Cane Hill, Lieutenant Arthur McCoy, with fifty picked men, was sent to look up one hundred Pins [Indians], reported to be encamped near a little town twenty miles in the Cherokees Nation. This Arthur McCoy was a gay, dashing, devil-may-care St. Louisan who joined the old 1st Missouri Infantry, Bowen’s immortal regiment, Duffee’s company, in St. Louis, and had won red laurels at Shiloh, but being attracted by the rising star of Shelby’s genius, came over to join his galaxy of knights. Like some of the cuirassiers of Napoleon’s Old Guard, he always doffed his plumed hat to this adversary just as he murmured through his moustache, “En Garde.” McCoy, above all others, suited exactly for the enterprise, and ferreting out, by good luck, and excellent guide, he succeeded in completely surprising the Indian encampment. The sleepy pickets were cut off and sabered silently. The doomed warriors lay rolled up in their blankets alongside of a heavy rail fence, which had been fired in a hundred corners to give heat during the night, when the silent horsemen rode upon them without the ringing of a musket. The work, short and bloody, lasted on a few moments. McCoy sabered seven with his own hand, and but ten of the whole number escaped. The next morning he rode quietly into camp with not a rose on his fresh, blooming face withered or fled.

Captain Blackwell, in command of Marmaduke’s escort, entered Marshfield suddenly, picked up a dozen of or rusticating Federals, and took possession of five large stores filled with everything needed by soldiers. Finding their proprietors unwilling to take Confederate money at par—although the notes were worth something as containing correct photographic likenesses of President Davis—and possessing a very conservative disposition with his many other good qualities, Captain Blackwell detailed five accurate salesman, Peter Turley, James Walton, Arthur McCoy, James Herndon, and Joel Whitehurst, to wait upon those customers having the “six months after a treaty of peace” bills. Business, previously quite dull, expanded visibly under this new commercial arrangement, and soon every store became crowded with anxious buyers. At night a large auction followed, the Southern ladies attending in crowds and having heavy amounts of the proscribed money in their possession. The uses made afterward of these funds by the bona fide merchants were never ascertained, yet it is highly probably they were put carefully away until a day of redemption came, which every one among them believed was near at hand, if their vociferant assertions of loyalty to the Confederacy could be relied upon.

[Edwards reminiscing about sitting around a campfire in Arkansas listening to various men tell their stories . . .]

. . .McCoy telling some galloping story of border foray, and how he went snugly into St. Louis and brought out seven hundred thousand musket-caps.

The restless and insatiate Arthur McCoy—whose energy and battle-intellect were Titanic—hovered around Clayton for three days, cut off two picket posts, captured seven wagons, killed a notorious Union bushwhacker living near Pine Bluff, and returned loaded with arms and accoutrements.

After the capture of the Queen City, and after the battle with the Tyler and her consorts, a man presented himself to Shelby’s picket line, weak, emaciated—but wary and defiant—his clothes dripping with moisture and covered by the mire and the sand of the swamps. Not recognized by the officer on duty, he was sent into camp. When the dirt was washed from his face, and his long lank hair combed out, he proved to be Captain Arthur McCoy, before spoken of as one of the most daring, debonair, heroic scouters and fighters in the whole brigade. His escape had been romantic, and in every way characteristic of the indomitable Confederate. Captured several months before, on an expedition toward the Arkansas river, because his horse had been shot dead under him, after his five men had fought seventy-eight Federals for eleven miles, he had been carried first to Pine Bluff, where Clayton, although a Kansan, treated him soldierly; thence to Little Rock, where the penitentiary was too good for him, had finally arrived at Duvall’s Bluff, on his way to Alton, and maybe that dark, mysterious death suffered by so many.

The roar of Collin’s guns, which had shattered the life out of the Queen City and the fight out of the Tyler, told to McCoy’s quick ears the tale of Shelby’s attack, and the rumors about the town, and the hasty mustering of the garrison, told equally well that the attack had been successful. He determined at every hazard to escape, and was greatly favored by some friends on board the boat upon which he had been confined, and the mention of whose names here can do no good. [McCoy and his brother-in-law –Confederate spy, courier, and saboteur Robert Louden– had worked at painting steamboats on the St. Louis levee before the war, and both of them would have had many friends on the boats working the rivers.  In addition, Louden’s partner, Ab Grimes, was a steamboat pilot and had even more river friends–these would certainly be available to Louden, and probably by extension to McCoy. The Federals had noted many times that the majority of the river men were Southern-leaning.] The time for action came. He stood on the hurricane roof of the boat in earnest conversation with an engineer—his friend and accomplice. Suddenly the engineer exclaimed to McCoy, who had dressed himself in the working suit of one of the hands of the boat:

“I tell you we can not move from the wharf unless the thing is fixed,” mentioning the name of some part of the machinery.

“And I tell you,” answered McCoy, “that the d—-d thing can’t be fixed until you send to the Little Rock foundry.”

“I know better,” replied the engineer. “Come with me and I will prove it.”

The guard, calmly pacing his beat during the time of the conversation, had heard every word, and naturally enough supposing they were two engineers disputing about some machinery needing repair, scarcely noticed them as they went below. Quick as lightning McCoy descended through the wheelhouse and into the water with a noiseless motion. Floating quietly along, his head barely enough above the waves for respiration, he passed the lowest boat, the lookouts on the batteries, around a bend in the river, and at last beyond sight, without his escape being noticed. At length, wearied from incessant exertion, he drew upon the nearest shore for rest and observation, when, horror of horrors, a grim ironclad lay quietly at anchor about three hundred yards below. To go back was simply impossible, to take to the woods seemed madness, as White river spread out ten miles wide at this point, and the bottoms on either shore were a wilderness of water—so McCoy gathered a large bundle of dry canes, launched them very quietly, and boldly floated past the gunboat in safety, and for eight miles further, until he reached the shelter of his old ark, worn out, haggard, and exhausted.

Three days in camp furnished all the rest he required, and after this time had been spent lazily, it was ascertained that tin the Mississippi River about thirty miles above Helena, a large steamboat, the Mariner, loaded with coal for the fleet, stood hard and fast aground, and that by a little wading she might be captured. Taking seventy-five picked men, he made a forced march, surprised the guard of five men on the bank watching the steamer, waded waist deep two hundred yards to her, and finally gave the boat and cargo to the flames—sending the officers and crew on board to the commanding general at Helena.

Arthur McCoy returned with his spoils in the shape of two or more dozen fine carbines and revolvers. . .

Marmaduke was resting after Springfield and Hartville, preparing for Cape Girardeau. Musket caps were fearfully scarce in the department and none anywhere in reach nearer than St. Louis. The detail came originally to Shelby for a lieutenant and ten men, and he sent McCoy, who had been twice before into St. Louis. McCoy reported to Marmaduke and suggested that two men where sufficient, as the chances would be better for getting through and accomplishing the object of the mission. A young St. Louisan, brave, cool, wary and accomplished, Captain John W. Howard, was selected by McCoy to accompany him, and about the 13th of January [1864?] these two devoted officers started northward through the snow and the ice, with no passport save their wonderful assurance, and no diplomatic documents in addition to several hundred letters from Confederate soldiers to their friends in the loyal States.

Slowly and painfully they toiled through the drifted snow and the barren wastes along the dreary road until after three days’ hard traveling the State line was reached. Davidson’s cavalry division was scattered and roaming about in squads promiscuously over the country, and caution became not only necessary but so extreme as to be absolutely painful. At Current river a scout of fifty were encountered, but they were avoided by taking to the woods. Near Pilot Knob an old man was seen who mistook the two Confederates for Federal, as they were dressed in complete Federal clothing, except the pants of Howard, which were gray. The old man was very glad to see the “boys in blue”; had two precious cut-throats in the militia, and wanted McCoy to take some letters for him into Pilot Knob. “Money in them?”, asked Howard. “Oh! No, only on business.” “All right,” said McCoy, “the d—-d Secesh might rob us if it were supposed we had valuables.” They further imposed upon him by making inquiries about some sick Federals they had accidentally heard of as being in the neighborhood, and he gave them ample directions for a day’s journey. In Washington county they were hard put to it. The militia were swarming, and for information they called upon Mr. Pleas. Johnson. Mr. Johnson had gone to a funeral somewhere, and nothing could be found out there. All one night was spent in riding around Potosi—they were four miles south of it at dark and were four miles north of it at daylight. After daylight came broad and good they called upon another Mr. Johnson, and he sent them to a Mrs. Smith who had two sons in the militia, but was a true Southern lady. The tired, hungry men asked for food and sleep. In a short time her militia sons returned, but only to stand picket over the sleeping Confederates, and after three hours of sleep, they were awakened, fed, and sent on their toilsome way. The next house visited belonged to a Mr. Stovall.

Mr. Stovall gave them food and fire-water. Howard watched the horses and McCoy did the talking. “Are you a good Union man, Mr. Stovall?” “As good as the best, Captain.” “Well,” said McCoy, “have you seen pass here lately a red-headed man riding a little shave-tailed mule?” (He had heard of this fellow two houses back from Stovall’s). “Yes,” said the host. “Well, he is a deserter from General Davidson’s forces. I am after him hot, and must have a guide on the most direct road leading to St. Louis.” “I can’t go myself, captain, but my neighbor, Captain —–, has a good horse and is long in these parts.” “Go for him,” said McCoy sternly. The captain soon came, splendidly mounted, armed, and equipped. He was a vicious militia man, too, and McCoy’s eyes had a bad look when resting upon him. “You are a good guide, I hear”, said McCoy, “and I desire you to accompany me.” “I can not,” replied the Federal. McCoy straightened up, towered over the militiaman and drew out a huge paper in an official envelope and said ominously: “General Davidson has given me this document for my authority; it empowers me to impress and to kill; I shall do one or the other, or my name is not Captain McKeever.” This threat had its effect. A little before dark they started in a terrible rainstorm, which penetrated to the skin, although opposed by heavy and excellent overcoats. The Federal captain did his duty well, and took them to within eight miles of the Merrimac bivouacking was encountered. The rain which had been cursed and blasphemed, save the two spy heroes. God does not always destroy those who violate the seventh commandment, or from an army of fifty thousand there would scarcely survive ninety and nine. This rain had driven the cavalry from the road to the shelter of the timber, some thirty rods away, yet they halted loudly when the party came in sight. “Trot fast,” were the low, calm words of Howard, his right hand toying with the heavy dragoon under his coat. “No, no”, replied the Federal, “we must halt; they will fire else.” “Let them fire and be d—-d”, sneered McCoy, “do you suppose I would halt in such an infernal rain as this? Close up, Howard.”

Howard struck the Federal officer’s horse fiercely with the long reins of his bridle, and altogether, the three steeds bounded off at a sharp canter.

Carondolet was reached about three o’clock the next day, and the town was full of soldiers. The two daredevils dismounted leisurely, got shaved, and then went sauntering into a public barroom. Twenty Federals were drinking—they were infantry bear in mind. “Hallo, infantry”, shouted McCoy, “come and take a drink with some of the crack fellows of Davidson’s cavalry”. This bluff frankness told well with the soldiers, and the infantry came crowding around with five hundred questions about the Rebels in Arkansas—about Price, Marmaduke, Shelby, Kitchen, the bushwhackers, and what not. A brawny, burly fellow, with rough cheekbones and a bright, bad eye, peered long at Captain Howard, with some straggling instincts of recognition. “Who are you?”, he asked at length; “I have seen you in St. Louis”. Howard knew the fellow well, yet his composure was wonderful, and his voice clear and distinct as the ring of a silver anvil: “Likely, comrade; I have been there often. I am Captain Beard, of Hubbard’s 1st Missouri Cavalry Battalion”. The rank imposed upon the crowd—they had never been to the front and were privates—so they became reticent instantly. After another drink at Howard’s expense—the two improvised Federals rode boldly for St. Louis, which they entered without remark or comment, passing within two feet of the sentinel at the arsenal mechanically walking his beat. [Gee, I wonder what happened to their scout? They seem to have misplaced him somewhere.]

Once inside and these gay gallants threw away almost the simplest precautions. Both of them had fine Confederate cavalry uniforms mad, which, consistent with regulations, were gaudy and attractive. “I’ll get the caps,” said McCoy, “but I must have some fun.” One night the two were enjoying an hour’s tête-à-tête with five or six Rebel ladies, when in came two Federal majors. McCoy felt invigorated by some rare old Krug, and the devil danced about his cold gray eyes till they sparkled and glittered. Excusing himself a moment, he stepped into an adjoining room, unpinned the skirts of his uniform coat, threw off the great blue overcoat, and burst back upon the astonished Federals in all the glory and horror of buff and gold lace. “This farce of being Yankee is about played out”, said McCoy; “please give us Dixie, Miss —–“. The beautiful girl, catching inspiration from the sight of the “darling gray”, sprang like a with upon the piano, and tangled her white fingers in among the keys until the air gave out Rebel infection and the whole house joined in the chorus. The [Federal] officers started simultaneously for the door. “Not this night”, said McCoy; “we have no desire to hang for an useless frolic. Be quiet, gentlemen, and let’s make a night of it,” and his pistol and Howard’s were out in a twinkling. The Federals, who were really sensible fellows, remained quietly, drank deeply, and were finally carried to bed in a state of blissful ignorance.

Long before day the Confederates were moving. Two splendid horses had been procured, forty thousand musket caps were stowed away in saddlebags. Howard carried from the city an elegant saddle and bridle for General Shelby, and, after seeing McCoy well on his way Southward, returned quietly to organize and take out to Arkansas a company of recruits.

[Noted Guerillas –same trip into St. Louis as above. Note that in the above telling, Howard had accompanied McCoy “well on his way Southward”, but there is no mention of him as McCoy passes Benton Barracks and baits the sentinel. Noted Guerillas also has a shorter but more flamboyant telling of the encounter with the Federal officers given above, with McCoy forcing one of the Federals to wear a Confederate uniform and dance to Dixie.]

As McCoy rode out from St. Louis, in the cold gray of the following morning, the devil still seemed to have possession of him. As he passed Benton Barracks a sentinel stood by the roadside with his gun at a right, shoulder shift. McCoy rode up to him and halted: “I am a Confederate officer. I represent the Confederate President—if you should present arms to me I should consider that you had presented them to Mr. Jefferson Davis. Present arms!” The sentinel thought the man was evidently mad. It was still early morning. No soldiers were astir anywhere about the barracks. McCoy’s revolver was at the soldier’s breast before he could take his musket from his shoulder. “You will not present arms to me?” “Not to save your life.” “But you see I have the drop on you! Do you want me to kill you?” Still thinking McCoy was one of his own uniform, and being drunk or mischievous, was trying to play a prank on him, the sentinel replied, “shoot and be d—-d!”

McCoy’s face darkened instantly, and he cocked his pistol, “I will not shoot you so,” he said, “nor will I shoot you at all without giving you a chance for your life. Listen, I shall ride back fifty paces, turn my horse, and charge you. As I come by I shall fire at you once. You have but one shot and I who have eighteen will take but one also. Get ready.”

The sentinel, as he saw McCoy deliberately countermarch and wheel about to charge, began, at last, to have his suspicions aroused. He took his musket from his shoulder and cocked it and waited. McCoy dashed furiously down upon the sentinel, and the sentinel, when he was with about ten paces of him, fired at point blank range and missed. As McCoy passed him, he put out his pistol suddenly and shot him down where he stood, the garrison turning out in force, and hurriedly saddled, cavalry coming on in rapid pursuit. The sentinel, however, although badly wounded, finally recovered and McCoy, scarcely quickening his pace, rode on southward unmolested.

[Shelby and His Men –after McCoy left St. Louis on this trip]

At a bridge some twenty miles from St. Louis, McCoy met trouble—one company of Federals held it. He was on the bridge before he discovered the guard, an almost right on him. “Halt!”, was the challenge. “Well”, says the unabashed adventurer, “what do you want?” “I want you to get down and show your pass”, says the “boy in blue”. “What, Sir?”, says McCoy in a voice of thunder, “do you dare to insult an officer of the day, with his saber by his side, by such a piece of insolence as this? Can’t you see my rank, sir?” “Well”, says the abashed Federal in an exculpatory tone, “I was only trying to obey the order of my captain.” “Your captain, eh! Where is your captain, sir? Had he did his duty this thing would not have happened to you. He should have taught you to say, ‘Halt! Who comes there?’ and let me answer the challenge in that shape. Instead of that you halt me improperly, and show at once that you have not been well instructed. Where is your captain, sir?” “He has just passed the bridge with the rest of the company to put them on picket”. “Very well, sir”, said McCoy, somewhat mollified, “I can excuse you, but I can not overlook such negligence in your captain. I will go and see after him.” And thereupon he put spurs to his trusty steed, and rode off past the guard at a brisk canter. As soon as he came to a turn in the road he darted out into the woods and fields, every foot of which he knew too well to venture upon giving “that captain” the lecture he had promised, and made his way safely to Shelby’s headquarters in Batesville.

Of course there must have been staunch Southern sympathizers in St. Louis, or McCoy and Howard would have gone to the wall; and to two men these officers went for material aid—Mr. John King and Captain William D. Bartle. It would be difficult to make an accurate estimate of the assistance furnished by these two devoted “Rebels”. McCoy was in St. Louis three times during his connection with Shelby, and John King upon every occasion gave him money, pistols, horses, and better than all, information, for is a keen, observant man, and a shrewd tactician. So also did Captain Bartle. St. Louis is filled with generous people who aided the Confederate in every possible manner, and who, many of them, endured exile for their sympathies; but there are none who excelled these gentlemen in the secrecy of their operation, the munificence of their gifts, and in the indefatigable manner by which they equipped and hurried to the army young men unable to purchase the necessary accouterments.

[Noted Guerillas]

Later, in 1864, a deed was done by McCoy which attracted the attention and won the admiration of two opposing forces. General John B. Clark was attacking Glasgow from one side of the river, in 1864, and General Shelby from the other. Between the two lines drawn about the doomed town were the Federal forts and garrison commanded by General Chester Harding. A large steamboat lay at the wharf and Shelby desired to know if it were serviceable; if it were, he intended to man it and ferry over his command, and to attack from the north side. He did not want to sacrifice over one man in the perilous undertaking, and he did not desire to order any soldier to perform the desperate duty. Volunteers were called for, and while fifty came to the front, McCoy was chosen because he knew more than any of them about steamboats and their machinery, and because he pleaded so hard to be permitted to take the risk. He started in a skiff as slight as a pasteboard. Having to pull himself, his back was necessarily to the town, thus depriving him of whatever advantage he might have attained by watching the operations of the enemy. Glasgow is built upon a hill, and from the foot of the bluff to the river there is probably a stretch of bottom land a dozen paces across. Closely engaged from the south, the Federal skirmishers did not descend from the hill tops, where, half hidden and partially entrenched, they fired closely and vigorously upon McCoy. He kept right onward. As he left the shelter of his own lines, the bullets thickened in the water about him and fairly plowed up the surface of the river with lead. Collins, with two guns of his memorable battery, succored him all that was possible and threw canister rapidly into the skirmishers. Once when the fire was desperately hot, McCoy turned around upon his seat, ceased rowing, and lifted his hat to the Federal skirmishers. Both sides cheered spontaneously. How he escaped is a matter yet unexplained. Probably two hundred men fired at him, each man firing five shots, or one thousand shots in all. Blood was not drawn once from his body, miraculous to relate. One bullet cut off a lock of his hair, another knocked his cap into he river, which he deliberately stopped to pick up, seven balls struck the skiff in various parts, four more went through is clothes, and one cut almost in two at the oarlock the left hand oar. In despite of everything, however, McCoy gained the northern bank, landed the boat, obtained what information he desired, and actually returned as he had crossed under a tremendous volley of small arms.

Once he fought a duel—a duel to the death—but not one of his own seeking. In the Western army there were many Confederate Indians, and in a Choctaw regiment there was a young half-breed captain who had a pony sensible enough to have been a circus pony. It would dance, talked with its head, fire off a pistol, and do other and numerous tricks at the bidding of its master. McCoy owned a savage stallion, a favorite, however, because of its fleetness and strength. The pony and the stallion got together one night, and the next morning the Choctaw had no pony—McCoy’s horse having literally devoured him. The Indian was furious. He would have revenge. He would kill the horse that killed his horse. He would have revenge. He started to execute his threat. McCoy stood across his path with a drawn, saber in his hand, and said to the Choctaw: “Arm yourself. Shall it be sword or pistol? You want satisfaction and shall have it. My horse’s hide is more precious than my own, therefore not one hair upon it shall be ruffled.” The Indian chose a saber also, a ring was formed, seconds appointed, and probably half a brigade gathered to see the desperate work. McCoy fenced warily; the Indian, quick and savage. Both were wounded. McCoy had an ugly cut on his right temple and another on his left hip. The Indian had been slashed twice severely, and once across the saber arm. Each was getting weak. Finally McCoy made a feint as if he would deliver the right cut, shortened his sword arm, and ran the Indian squarely through the body. Thus ended the fight and the life of the Choctaw as well. He died before midnight.

Curtis heavy division, retreating before General Price [in the 1864 raid] all the way from Lexington to Independence, held the western bank of the Little Blue, and some heavy stonewalls and fences beyond. Marmaduke and Shelby broke his hold loose from these, and pressed him rapidly back to and through Independence, the two Colorado regiments covering his rear stubbornly and well. Side by side McCoy and [George] Todd had made several brilliant charges during the morning, and had driven before them with great spirit and dash every Colorado squadron halted to resist the continual marching forward of the Confederate cavalry. Ere the pursuit ended for the day, half of the 2nd Colorado regiment drew upon the crest of a bold hill and made a gallant fight. Their Major, Smith, a brave and dashing officer, was killed here, and here Todd fell. General Shelby, as was his wont, was well up with the advance, and leading recklessly the two companies of Todd and McCoy. Next to Shelby’s right rode Todd, and upon his left was McCoy. Close to these and near to the front files where Colonel Nichols, [John] Thrailkill, Ben Morrow, Ike Flannery and Jesse James. The trot had deepened into a gallop, and all the cloud of skirmishers covering the head of the rushing column were at it, fierce and hot, when the 2nd Colorado swept the road with a furious volley, broke away from the strong position held by them, and hurried on through the streets of Independence followed by the untiring McCoy, as lank as a foxhound and as eager.

That volley killed Todd.

[Shelby and His Men –on the retreat from Missouri, thru Kansas, after the 1864 raid]

Shelby moved this day with his division in advance, making desolate a broad track through the fertile fields of Kansa, and leaving behind him long trails of fire and smoldering ruins. Scattered militia were captured at nearly every house, and McCoy, with one hundred and fifty men, stormed Fort Lincoln, took its garrison of one hundred prisoners, burned it and all its surrounding houses, and returned to the column loaded with horses and supplies. [The accounts of McCoy do seem to have a consistent thread of booty. . .uh, acquired. . . to them.]

The advance, composed of two hundred volunteers from all the regiments in the brigade, and superb body of soldiers they were, lost one hundred and twenty in killed and wounded. It was led by McCoy. At Newtonia, Slayback from three hundred and twenty men lose in killed forty-nine, besides a large number wounded. These statements may show to a small extent the sacrifices Shelby was called upon to make.

General Magruder commenced about this time [early 1865] the organization of a secret corps for operations within the enemy’s lines, and, as usual, Shelby was called upon for some of his best and truest of men—those he had trained, hardened, and schooled in every species of desperate and reckless warfare. McCoy plead so earnestly for the mission that General Shelby—whose own ambitious heart was ever soft and yielding to the daring wishes of his men—gave it to him. McCoy took fourteen men—Jim Kirtley, Sam Redd, James Cather, Dan Franklin, Jim McGraw, At Persinger, Nick Coil, Bob Allen, Sam Downing, Asa Tracey, John Manion, Sid Martin, Ed Ward, and a little boy scarcely fifteen year old—Lem Stevenson—but acute and intelligent to a most wonderful degree. His fresh, guileless face and soft, amiable manners made him invaluable as a spy, and McCoy used him constantly to great advantage. A record of the adventures of these daring Confederates would be marvelous, indeed, and almost beyond belief. McGraw spent most of his time at the Federal naval station, near the mouth of White River, and managed always to keep McCoy posted regarding the movement of all detachments sent out for his capture. Sid Martin, another boy, about eighteen years of age, but cool and wary as a grenadier of Napoleon’s old guard, went twice into Memphis and once into St. Louis, and brought back to his captain, in addition to valuable information, twenty-three revolvers and a large sack filled with Ely’s pistol caps—more precious than greenbacks. He was captured twice, but on both occasions eluded his guards and returned to camp riding the best horse in the squad having charge of him. Lem Stevenson visited St. Louis twice, was lionized, petted, spoiled, and concealed by the Southern ladies there and returned each time with a great budge of news for Magruder. Ed Ward, James Cather, At Persinger, Jim Kirtley and Sam Redd did the scouting from Napoleon to Pine Bluff; Coil, Sam Downing, and Asa Tracey, were the river detail—especially commissioned to burn transports and trading-boats. Two fine steamers and tree little Yankee coasters—loaded with jews-harps, gew-gaws, and, maybe a few wooden nutmegs—were given to the flames, the crews were give to the sword, and the supplies that were valuable distributed to the suffering and heroic Southern women in the neighborhood of the captures. [There’s McCoy and his booty again]

Such was the terror and annoyance inspired by the reckless and unceasing efforts of McCoy’s partisans that General McGinnis, the Federal commander in that portion of the country, sent daily detachments in quest of them. Major Davis, of the 15th Illinois cavalry, leading a squadron one day in this kind of pursuit, was ambushed by War, Cather, Coil, Persinger, Redd, Downing and Tracey, at the mouth of a long lane and completely routed. It happened just at dark, and five men falling at the first close, deadly fire, the Illinoisans were seized with a panic, thinking they were outnumbered and enfiladed, and fled franticly back followed by the seven back followed by the seven Confederates shooting everything they could overtake. Superbly mounted, they overtook many, too. Captain Norris, of the same regiment—the 15th Illinois—came out the next day and fared even worse. He had twenty-two men killed, five wounded, and lost ten horse and fourteen prisoners. This time McCoy had his whole force concentrated and on the alert.

Mrs. Douglass, an estimable and hospitable Southern matron, living in the heart of the “dark and bloody ground,” had her house used as a hospital for both parties—and often wounded Confederated and Federals would be lying side by side in the same room, receiving alike from her hands nourishment and sympathy. Her young and beautiful daughters emulated the example of their mother, and tried to outdo her in acts of mercy and benevolence. They often deprived themselves of their scanty supplies of provisions for the soldiers, and were in every particular angels of good deeds.

Cotton speculators, Yankee agents, itinerant preachers, and psalm-singing schoolmasters fled from McCoy’s scene of operations in ludicrous hast, spreading the most frightful repots of guerrillas, demons, giants, and what not. McCoy once suggest to a Federal Colonel, under flag of truce, that, as the vocabulary of epithets had been exhausted upon him men and himself, he would ask thereafter, as an especial favor, that they might be called gorillas.

Until the downfall of the Confederacy, McCoy’s little band kept watch and ward upon the river, keeping General Smith advised of every military movement upon the Mississippi.

Making of a Confederate Guerrilla

The Making of a Confederate Guerrilla


John N. Edwards

Excerpted and introduced by G. E. Rule, from “Noted Guerrillas or the Warfare of the Border”, by John N. Edwards, 1877

John N. Edwards

Major John Newman Edwards, CSA, was General Jo. Shelby’s adjutant and chronicler. At war’s end Edwards chose to share Mexican exile with Shelby as well. When they returned to the U.S. in 1867, Edwards rapidly published three large volumes of wartime experiences. Two dealt specifically with Shelby, “Shelby and his Men”, 1867 and “Shelby’s Expedition to Mexico”, 1872. In 1877 he published “Noted Guerrillas”, a broad handling of the Confederate irregulars in Missouri during the war. Edwards also founded the Kansas City Times and was its editor for many years.

Make no mistake, Major John N. Edwards was a Confederate and proud of it. You will not find more than passing reference to the other side of the coin in his pages. His flamboyantly purple prose is sometimes entertaining and sometimes tiresome, but is always used in defense of Confederate Missouri and its view of the world and “the recent unpleasantness”.

Edwards knew most of the Missouri Confederate guerrilla leaders personally, but did not actually participate in most of their raids in the same way he had as Shelby’s adjutant. So while his sources for “Noted Guerillas” are excellent, they are still mostly second-hand in that he is often reporting what he was told (sometimes months or years after the fact), and not what he saw. In addition to Major Edward’s clear partisanship, one must make allowance for the possibility that the guerillas themselves told him their stories the way they wanted them told, leaving out any inconvenient facts as they saw fit. For example, later historians have thoroughly demolished the tale given in the beginning of the book about Quantrill’s early years in Kansas before the war.  However, all agree that it was Quantrill, and not Edwards, who created the fabrication.

“The Making of a Confederate Guerrilla” does not –quite—constitute a defense of those who decided on this method of warfare instead of joining the regular Confederate army. Edwards clearly sympathizes with them, but in talking about why they made the choice he stays just this side of the “and they were right to do it this way” line that separates biased reporting from naked advocacy.

Further Reading: Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865
by Jay Monaghan

Ride With the Devil by Daniel Woodrell

The Story of Cole Younger by Himself : Being an Autobiography of the Missouri Guerrilla Captain and Outlaw, His Capture and Prison Life by Cole Younger

Three Years With Quantrill by John McCorkle

Recommended Movies:

Ride With the Devil

The Outlaw Josey Wales

It is the province of history to deal with results, not to condemn the phenomena which produce them. Nor has it the right to decry the instruments Providence always raises up in the midst of great catastrophes to restore the equilibrium of eternal justice. Civil war might well have made the Guerrilla, but only the excesses of civil war could have made him the untamable and unmerciful creature that history finds him. When he first went into the war he was somehow imbued with the old-fashioned belief that soldiering meant fighting and that fighting meant killing. He had his own ideas of soldiering, however, and desired nothing so much as to remain at home and meet its despoilers upon his own premises. Not naturally cruel, and adverse to invading the territory of any other people, he could not understand the patriotism of those who invaded his own territory. Patriotism, such as he was required to profess, could not spring up in the market place at the bidding of Red Leg or Jayhawker. He believed, indeed, that the patriotism of Jim Lane and Jennison was merely a highway robbery transferred from the darkness to the dawn, and he believed the truth. Neither did the Guerrilla become merciless all of a sudden. Pastoral in many cases by profession, and reared among the bashful and timid surroundings of agricultural life, he knew nothing of the tiger that was in him until death had been dashed against his eyes in numberless and brutal ways, and until the blood of his own kith and kin had been sprinkled plentifully upon things that his hands touched, and things that entered into his daily existence. And that fury of ideas also came to him slowly, which is more implacable than the fury of men, for men have heart, and opinion has none. It took him likewise some time to learn that the Jayhawker’s system of saving the Union was a system of brutal force, which bewailed not even that which it crushed; that it belied its doctrine by its tyranny; stained its arrogated right by its violence, and dishonored its vaunted struggles by its executions. But blood is as contagious as air. The fever of civil war has its delirium. When the Guerrilla awoke he was a giant! He took in, as it were, and at a single glance, all the immensity of the struggle. He saw that he was hunted and proscribed; that he had neither a flag nor a government; that the rights and the amenities of civilized warfare where not to be his; that a dog’s death was certain if he surrendered even in the extremist agony of battle; that the house which sheltered him had to be burnt; the father who succored him had to be butchered; the mother who prayed for him had to be insulted; the sister who carried food to him had to be imprisoned; the neighborhood which witnessed his combats had to be laid waste; the comrade shot down by his side had to be put to death as a wild beast—and he lifted up the black flag in self-defense and fought as became a free man and a hero.

Much obloquy has been cast upon the Guerrilla organization because in its name bad men plundered the helpless, pillaged friend and foe alike, assaulted non-combatants and murdered the unresisting and the innocent. Such devil’s work was not Guerrilla work. It fitted all too well the hands of those cowards crouching in the rear of either army and courageous only where women defended what remained to themselves and their children. Desperate and remorseless as he undoubtedly was, the Guerrilla saw shining down upon his pathway a luminous patriotism, and he followed it eagerly that the might kill in the name of God and his country. The nature of his warfare made him responsible of course for many monstrous things he had no personal share in bringing about. Denied a hearing a the bar of public opinion, the bete noir of all the loyal journalists, painted blacker than ten devils, and given a countenance that was made to retain some shadow of all the death agonies he had seen, is it strange in the least that his fiendishness became omnipresent as well as omnipotent? To justify one crime on the part of a Federal soldier, five crimes more cruel still were laid at the door of the Guerrilla. His long gallop not only tired but infuriated his hunters. That savage standing at bay and dying always as a wolf dies when barked at by hounds and bludgeoned by countrymen, made his enemies fear him and hate him. Hence from all their bomb-proofs his slanderers fired silly lies at long range, and put afloat unnatural stories that hurt him only as it deepened the savage intensity of an already savage strife. Save in rare and memorable instances, the Guerrilla murdered only when fortune in open and honorable battle gave into his hands some victims who were denied that death in combat which they afterward found by ditch or lonesome roadside. Man for man, he put his life fairly on the cast of the war dice, and died when the need came as the red Indian dies, stoical and grim as a stone.

As strange as it may seem, the perilous fascination of fighting under a black flag—where the wounded could have neither surgeon nor hospital, and where all that remained to the prisoners was the absolute certainty of speedy death –attracted a number of young men to the various Guerrilla bands, gently nurtured, born to higher destinies, capable of sustained exertion in any scheme or enterprise, and fit for callings high up in the scale of science or philosophy. Others came who had deadly wrongs to avenge, and these gave to all their combats that sanguinary hue which still remains a part of the Guerrilla’s legacy. Almost from the first a large majority of Quantrell’s [common misspelling of Quantrill used by Edwards throughout] original command had over them the shadow of some terrible crime. This one recalled a father murdered, this one a brother waylaid and shot, this one a house pillaged and burnt, this one a relative assassinated, this one a grievous insult while at peace at home, this one a robbery of all his earthly possessions, this one the force which compelled him to witness the brutal treatment of a mother or sister, this one was driven away from his own life a thief in the night, this one was threatened with death for opinion’s sake, this one was proscribed at the instance of some designing neighbor, this one was arrested wantonly and forced to do the degrading work of a menial; while all had more or less of wrath laid up against the day when they were to meet face to face and hand to hand those whom they had good cause to regard as the living embodiment of unnumbered wrongs. Honorable soldiers in the Confederate army –amenable to every generous impulse and exact in the performance of every manly duty –deserted even the ranks which they had adorned and became desperate Guerrillas because the home they had left had been given to the flames, or a gray-haired father shot upon his own hearth-stone. They wanted to avoid the uncertainty of regular battle and know by actual results how many died as a propitiation or a sacrifice. Every other passion became subsidiary to that of revenge. They sought personal encounters that their own handiwork might become unmistakably manifest. Those who died by other agencies than their own were not counted in the general summing up of a fight, nor were the solacements of any victory sweet to them unless they had the knowledge of being important factors in its achievement. As this class of Guerrillas increased, the warfare of the border became necessarily more cruel and unsparing. Where at first there was only killing in ordinary battle, there became to be no quarter shown. The wounded of the enemy next felt the might of this individual vengeance –acting through a community of bitter memories –and from every stricken field there began, by and by, to come up the substance of this awful bulletin: Dead such and such a number –wounded none. The war had then passed into its fever heat, and thereafter the gentle and the merciful, equally with the harsh and the revengeful, spared nothing clad in blue that could be captured.